Last week, American Horror Story wrapped up its season-long freak show storyline. But today, we're still stuck here, thinking "what the hell happened" to this series? Here are our thoughts on the entire season, and the lackluster finale in particular. Spoilers ahead...
"You'll Never Be A Freak" Vs. "You're The Biggest Freak"
Perhaps this was where the series lost me the most: the message. American Horror Story has no problem trotting out a taboo message or idea, but Freak Show seemed to be juggling too many ideas all at once. And the message became even more confusing in the end, when characters started contradicting each other about the meaning of the word "freak."
When Dandy finally inherits his dream of owning the Freak Show, thus getting the chance to perform on stage, Paul loses it and tells the villain off: "You're boring, and we don't do boring. We're freaks you'll never be one of us." This causes Dandy to lose his shit and murder (just about) everyone (more on that later). After Dandy's murder spree, he's later apprehended by the surviving freaks, who want revenge. And as they encase Dandy in a glass coffin (similar to the previous containers that held Ma Petite and Salty) Desiree tells Dandy "You may look like a motion pictures dreamboat, but you're the biggest freak of all."
So Dandy is the biggest freak of all, but he's also boring and not a freak? This is what you leave the series on? After many episodes of pushing hard on interesting themes — like the family of outsiders, the things people will do when looking for acceptance, and the variety of ways our society treats those deemed to be "freaks" — the audience was left scratching their heads.
What was the point? Don't be a murderous dick? Seeing Dandy in a big glass box was thrilling, if not full circle-like (granted, we didn't necessarily need to be told that this was what they were doing by a character, but whatever). But we already saw the "freak" treatment play out, after Stanley was hobbled and dressed as Meep. An homage to Tod Browning's Freaks (which the audience was also informed of, after the characters told Stanley the plot of said film). Honestly the biggest takeaway (for me) was, "Maybe be better at running a circus and have more realistic expectations about ticket sales." Or "Don't be a dick."
Fuck It, Just Kill Everyone
The failing of the freak show message was doubly lost when Dandy decided to murder everyone. The best part of this show wasn't the big-name celebrities, it was the new actors that made up the cast of freaks. Eve (Erika Ervin), Paul (Mat Fraser), Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge) and the others were truly the heart and soul of this series. Every time one the freaks got his or her own plot line or backstory, you could guarantee it would be 1,000 times more interesting than anything else we had seen. To execute each cast-member in such a odd way felt like a waste of these absolutely fantastic actors. They deserved better than this, and the audience did as well.
For months we fretted over Paul's beautiful face, and Ma Petite's horrific ending — hell, the Pepper side story was possibly the most heartbreaking plot in the entire series. But for reasons I cannot comprehend, we left our lovely new friends in a pile of bodies in front of the stage. Why even bother trying to get us to connect with these wonderful characters, if the show was going to kill them all off as carelessly as an introduction to a Law & Order episode? There was no fear, no sadness, no horror. Just Dandy with a gun, putting bullets in the heads of your favorite freaks. The end. Perhaps he had to kill all these people just to set up his own freak show ending, but honestly the ends did not justify the means.
Also this isn't the first time American Horror Story decided to kill off almost the entire cast, so it's not even new! We already did the whole "everyone is dead" thing in the Murder House finale.
When The Side Characters Are Better Than The Actual Story
What was the main plot of American Horror Story: Freak Show? Elsa wanted to be famous? The Freaks wanted to just carve out a little world for themselves under the spotlight? A clown is killing all the townspeople? A traveling salesman is killing freaks and selling them off? Dick fingers? There were a lot of different plot lines being juggled in Freak Show. None of which I really responded to. At least not in the same way we responded to the characters and their trials in Asylum, Coven or Murder House. So many plates were spinning in the air, it was hard to nail down a character to cheer for or really even hate.
However I will give a lot of love to the cameo characters that appeared. Edward Mordrake provided a weird, supernatural twist to the series that also revealed backloads of backstory for our favorite freaks. Chester the murderous magician was great fun to watch. Even Andy the 1950s gay barfly carried with him a bit of baggage we wanted to explore. But the clown and Dandy's plight (no matter how wonderfully Finn Wittrock acted, and he is really a spectacular talent) couldn't hold our attention. They were almost too sporadic and psychopathic to connect with, it's not fun to watch a little kid smash bugs for no reason. And it's not fun to watch someone kill random characters because they're having an adult tantrum. I wanted more from these villains.
Jessica Lange's Swan Song
Sadly, this was Jessica Lange's final American Horror Story. And even though I would gladly hand over everything I own to this amazing star, I think it's probably good that Lange is done with AHS. At some point during the finale, Massimo Dolcefino (Danny Huston) wanders in. Elsa is now famous but miserable — because whatever, you can't always get what you want, or something. I was immediately excited to see the actor Huston because for some reason, I thought he was the totally terrible murder ghost from Coven. Which is not possible, but I didn't care, because I knew they loved each other. Granted Elsa and Massimo are totally different characters... but really, are they? Are they really different characters, or does this show (and me) just like to watch Danny Huston and Jessica Lange kiss and flirt with each other?
There was nothing new about this, there was nothing different besides the two characters being nicer to one another, the plot was lost in a whirl of Huston soft talking and Lange acting mad and drunk and lost. Same shit different day. Highly watchable, really fun shit, but the same. Yeah, it's time for some new people.
But We Still Love You, AHS
Even though Freak Show was all but unwatchable in the end, we still love this show. Why?
- The devil is in the details in this astoundingly and consistently gorgeous series.
- The costumes (mostly the hats of Coven)
- AHS excels and finding and showcasing new talent. Finn Wittrock is going to be a big, fat star very very soon.
- Sarah Paulson is the greatest living actor on the planet, and I would follow her into a fire.
- At one point in the finale, AHS married Dandy to the two-headed twins and the guests were a bunch of stuffed animals. And just like that, we're back in. Because this is a weird as hell show — and only AHS can pull shit like that and get away with it.
Just be better next season, OK?